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I believe in artichokes

Italy did ruin me. After that first trip I came back disgusted by bodega coffee, which now smelled of old socks. Before, it was just fine. I rolled my eyes at red sauce joints, detouring old standbys like a stranger. If eating can be seen as a religious or spiritual experience I had been to the mountain. In time I would return on pilgrimages, always holding the simple pleasures in my thoughts.  An artichoke, methodically fried in good olive oil, with some salt. Black truffles, good butter and fresh pasta twisting around the back of a fork. A very cold and tiny glass of porto bianco sipped in a Genoa bar, with my friend Federico. A man cleaning sardines on a block of wood in the street. A woman selling green figs that she wraps into a newspaper cone. I have thousands of these memories, these artifacts. But I live in Moscow, where there has been an embargo for years now, and there is no population that expects perfect mounds of fresh cheese. They ship powdered palm oil here, that gets …

mercy

We go to a little store by us, that has no real name just the one everyone calls it - the "long store". It is a Soviet one, with little counters where you can buy different categories of food, paying individually at each one. We stand at the meat one, so I can buy a piece of pork shoulder. An old lady picks coins from her purse in slow, methodical movements as she pays for a tiny chunk of beef. The woman behind the counter juts her chin at me. I slide towards the pork trays, pointing at the piece I want.

"How big?" She asks me.
I point again at the one I want.
She is shoving her arm into a box behind the counter, pulling out another piece. It is a lump of meat in a cloudy plastic bag, sagging with pink blood.
"Fresh!" She announces to me in a big voice, waving it in the air. "And juicy!"
I shake my head no.
"Too big?" She asks, and goes back to the box.
I point once again at the piece I want.
"This one, just this one." I tell her.
"Oh, Gospodi." She blurts out, staring at me. ("Oh, god" or "Oh God have mercy.")

I stand there. E is looking up at me, shrugging her shoulders.

The woman eventually wraps up the pice I have been asking for the whole time, slapping it hard on the scale. I pay, and she throws my change at me, almost to the floor.

Outside, E's empty lunchbox thumps against her leg.

We walk in silence, even in the elevator.




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